The Witcher 3’s – Hearts of Stone (HoS) expansion is a tricky beast to review, on the one hand it’s an excellent new story and more of what we loved about The Witcher 3 in the first place, on the other hand it feels like CD Projekt Red played it safe and gave us more of what we loved through a lack of innovation. The expansion adds a gripping new story, some of the best boss fights in the game, a cast of characters you just hate loving, and a handful of new areas. However gameplaywise it feels like more of the same, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Before I discuss the content I’d just like to give you a quick rundown of how you can access the DLC. There are three ways in total: You can just continue your own save file, you can start a new game, or you can start the HoS expansion as a standalone, which means the game will provide you with a level 30 character especially designed for the DLC.
The story is fantastic, after beating the main game and umpteen side quests I honestly didn’t think it could surprise me again, but the DLC’s cast of twisted individuals had me engaged with the story from beginning to end. I won’t spoil anything here but in summary Geralt finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place as he’s forced to grant wishes for two of the game’s most fascinating characters: Gaunter O’Dimm and Olgierd von Evrec. Along the way you’ll attend an auction, chase pigs at a wedding, play Gwent, and find a new love interest in Shani.
The story really is HoS’s high point, it does boast a handful of new areas on the map but they don’t really add anything new to the overall experience. The expansion mainly takes place in Oxenfort and some previously unexplored areas in Velen’s No Man’s Land. Then, as I mentioned, there’s the new area, which opens up on the right side of Velen. While it’s nice to have new areas they’re visually identical to the rest of Velen, so at no point did I feel the urge to stray from the beaten path and explore because I felt like I’d been there a hundred times before.
Again, gameplay wise HoS doesn’t really make an effort to differentiate itself from the main game, or even expand much on it. The only real effort comes in the form on runewords, which can be used to bolster your equipment’s stats, but honestly I completed the expansion before I even looked into them so they’re clearly not the most meaningful, or necessary, feature. What the expansion does add gameplay wise is some of the best boss fights in the game, my favourite of which was the Caretaker but I won’t go into detail on any of them for fear of spoiling something, but trust me they’re great and challenging.
Speaking of challenging the DLC has a very obvious difficulty spike from the get go. The developers recommend being at least level 30 before you start HoS, but I started at 34 and levelled up to 38 during the ten-hour story and still felt it was more challenging, from beginning to end, than anything else in The Witcher 3. Another nice little feature worth mentioning is the fact that the HoS quests are clearly identified in your quest-log so you can easily pick them out from the main game’s main and side quests. As for the HoS side quests they’re the standard Witcher 3 affair, but they are good and should give you plenty of extra playtime.
Overall this expansion won’t win over any new fans to The Witcher 3. If you weren’t a fan of the main game then this isn’t for you, but if you loved rescuing Ciri from the Wild Hunt then you’ll love this too. The story and characters are some of the best in the game and keep you second guessing the whole way through. Gameplaywise there’s really not a whole lot to talk about because it’s practically identical to the main game, which isn’t a bad thing, at least they didn’t mess it up by adding in new features that don’t work or break the flow of gameplay. With that being said it does contain some of the game’s most well thought out boss fights and most creative quests. All in all this is a solid piece of DLC that will please any fan of the original game, just don’t go in expecting to meet innovation around every corner.